Lo-Mein & Hardy-Lite

It is hard to write about books.



Especially after you’ve eaten Vegetable Lo Mein at the supermarket.

I’ve been a vegetarian since September and suddenly could not bear the thought of any more broccoli-cheese soup.

Let’s go to the Hy-Vee and eat salad! I said.

I was sure the salad bar had crab or lobster, or at least fake crab or fake lobster.  I wanted protein.

No, it was just a bunch of lettuce, broccoli, and pasta salad.

So I went for the Chinese Express.

Did they have anything vegetarian?

Only Vegetable Lo Mein. The noodles hid some cabbage and onion, no other vegetables.   I “borrowed” broccoli from my mate’s plate of Chicken with Broccoli.

And now I am full of carbohydrates and inspired to let you know what I’ve been reading.

I’ve fallen a little behind.

For instance, my book journal tells me I finished Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders on August 27.  The writing is gorgeous and lyrical,  but this is not Hardy at his best, and so I never wrote about it.

It’s Hardy-lite.

Hardy-lite is better than most writers at their deepest and darkest, but I cannot recommend that you read this unless you have first read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure.

The Woodlanders simply lacks the passion of most of his work.

The usual themes are there.  Class matters.  And inter-class love does not work.  Somebody is bound to die.

The Woodlanders rambles: it is not architecturally structured like Hardy’s best.  There is a bit of a wobble.

We are introduced early in the novel to Marty South, a young woman who supports her ailing father by making wood spars for thatch–this involves working with  something called “a bill-hook” and “straight, smooth sticks called spar-gads”–and other things with wood.  At first we believe she is the heroine.  A barber pursues her from town; he wants to buy her hair for a lady in the neighborhood whose hair is the same shade.

Marty is not beautiful, and that should have told me she was not the heroine.

Her face had the usual fulness of expression which is developed by a life of solitude….In years she was no more than nineteen or twenty, but the necessity of taking thought at a too early period of life had forced the provisional curves of her childhood’s face to a premature finality.  thus she had but little pretension to beauty, save in one prominent particular–her hair.  Its abundance made it almost unmanageable; is color was, roughly speaking, and as seen here by firelight, brown, but careful notice, or an observation by day, would have revealed that its true shade was a rare and beautiful approximation to chestnut.

She reluctantly sells her hair,  like Jo in Little Women (remember that scene?), because she needs the money.

And then Hardy almost drops her from the plot, except when she emerges to write  some choice graffiti regarding Giles Winterborne.  She doesn’t have the hair, so, by Jove, she’s not the hair-o-win.

Poor Marty.  She is in love with Giles Winterborne, a woodsman, and certainly he is kind to her, but he  has long been in love with Grace Melbury, the daughter of George Melbury, the rich timber dealer.

George wants his daughter to marry Giles because he wronged Giles’ father long ago.  But when Grace comes home from finishing school, she is so well-educated, well-dressed, and glowing that she no longer really belongs in Little Hintock.   And when Fitzpiers, a handsome, heartless doctor courts her, she is flattered.

They marry, but soon wish for divorce.  Felice Charmond, the lady of the manor, knew Fitzpiers long ago.  They have an affair.

The characters, unfortunately, are not very well-drawn.  They’re likable, but anemic.  We don’t get terribly excited about what happens.  Hardy has written The Woodlanders elsewhere better.

This is definitely a grade “B” book.  Read it if, like me,  you’ve read all of Hardy’s other books.

Caveat Emptor!  Or should I say, Caveat Lector!

3 thoughts on “Lo-Mein & Hardy-Lite

  1. I’m not a fan of Hardy, but I do like noodles! You’re doing well with being vegetarian – and some days you can just eat mounds of salad and veg, other days you need junk veggie food – as long as it works for you, that’s ok!


  2. I like noodles too. Are you taking up vegetarianism? LIke the other commentator today I’m not a fan of Hardy, but I do think Jude the Obscure a great masterpiece, Tess strong and memorable, Return of the Native at times pure beautiful poetry (the descriptions), but the Mayor of Casterbridge shows something I can’t take (Tess too): a dislike of women. I know it’s said that the Woodlander is happy Hardy; since that’s an oxymoron (to anyone who’s read a man who titles his books LIfe’s Little Ironies) it stands to reason something’s wrong with it.


  3. Karen, it was great to eat noodles. So satisfying! But I wish they’d put some more vegetables in it. I guess this is standard for lo-mein. Maybe next time I’ll go for the chicken and vegetable stir-fry and throw out the chicken. That’s not a very purist vegetarian approach though!

    Ellen, I’ve been a vegetarian for two months but I will probably eat turkey on Thanksgiving. If I don’t cook it, there will be mayhem. I love Hardy, but at his worst he is heavy-handed. In The Woodlanders he doesn’t bother to develop the characters. It’s a very odd book: some wonderful writing, but much of it very second- or third-rate. I actually like some of his other minor novels, like The Hand of Ethelberta: somehow I struck out with this one.


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